At one or more points in your life, you’re likely to be called on to do some public speaking, to coworkers, business associates, potential clients, or even friends and family. It’s possible that when this happens, you will not be given much, if any, time to prepare your remarks before you have to begin speaking. This type of public speaking without preparation, known as extemporaneous speaking, can give even skilled public speakers pause, and can scare the wits out of people with less experience. If you want to be a great extemporaneous speaker, here are a few tips to help you improve your skills:
-Focus on one main point: It’s easy when you are the center of attention to think that you should share all the information that you know on a subject, and impress your listeners with your depth and breadth of information. But trying to cover everything about a topic makes it harder for you to remember all of your points, leaves you with less time to devote to each point you want to cover, and makes it harder for your audience to remember the major points of your speech. You will be much better off picking one point, and making sure that your entire speech relates back strongly to that single point. If you are giving a speech to the head of your company, for example, rather than trying to emphasize everything your unit did, pick the most successful project your team had and speak about that.
-Stick with what you know: Given how little time you have to prepare for extemporaneous public speaking, you often won’t have the ability to search for supporting data. For extemporaneous speaking more than any other type, you’ll need to be sure that you are talking about a subject that you know like the back of your hand. You should be able to come up with your major point, provide three or four supporting minor points to back up that point, and answer any questions directly related to your speech without needing to rely on outside sources. Depending on how much time you have available for your speech, you might be able to do a little research and perhaps expand on what you are planning to say, but the bulk of your speech should come from what you already know.
-Don’t try to memorize: You might feel more comfortable committing your speech to memory, but that’s the wrong approach for an extemporaneous speech. Such speeches must be given within hours, at most, of the time you find out about them; trying to memorize the speech is going to be futile. Even if you do succeed, the memorized speech is going to sound much stiffer and less conversational than if you simply focus on the main point you want to get across and allow the information to flow. You’ll also be able to be more conversational as you speak.
-Keep the use of notes to a minimum: Again, with the time constraints you’re likely to face, there won’t be enough time to write out everything you want to say, but the temptation may still be there. Resist it; your speech will only suffer if you try to read it off of paper or note cards. You won’t give as much eye contact to the audience, and you’ll be speaking toward the paper, rather than toward your listeners. If you must have notes, restrict it to one small note card that outlines your main point and the supporting points you’ve chosen, as well as your transitions, opening, and ending statements.
-Focus on your opening, closing, and transition statements: You might have noticed it yourself when listening to other people speak, but people pay the most attention at the beginning of a speech, toward the end of the speech, and when you change from one subject (or in our case, one minor point) to another. When you are doing your preparation (however short it might be), make sure that you have a good opening statement, clarifying the subject you will be covering and providing an idea of what you will be saying about it. As you go through your speech, clarify your transitions, perhaps changing position to grab people’s attention and show that you are moving on to another point. Finally, finish strong, grabbing people’s attention and reviewing the points you made briefly before delivering a closing statement or two.
If you follow all of this advice, your public speaking experience should be top notch, even if you don’t have much time to prepare. Stay confident, keep focused, and emphasize your points throughout your speech and you should have no problem delivering a great speech.
Roger Raby was a member of his college public speaking team (yes, he voluntarily competed by speaking in public regularly). During that time, he developed much better public speaking skills, and got over his fears of speaking in front of other people. If you’d like to learn more about how to get over your own fear and speak wonderfully in public, please check out: http://www.easypublicspeaking.info/.
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